Words of Advice from Our Local Accounting Partner!
Selecting a New System? Start with the Requirements. Here are 5 key points to help you get started on the path to success:
By: Ilona Davis and Darren Brown
Today, there are almost no business operations that can function without the use of technology, whether it is the proper Enterprise Resource Management (ERM) system, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, Point of Sale (POS) platform, e-commerce platform, or Business Intelligence (BI) for reporting. An organization’s business strategy can no longer exist without a proper Information Technology (IT) strategy to support it, and the approach to success must include a roadmap including both business and IT strategies. The following are key points to keep in mind as you begin your system selection and implementation project.
1. Understand your Requirements
A requirement refers to what you need the software to be able to do in order to be an effective and efficient tool for your business. Understanding your requirements serves as the first step to starting the software selection process. Let’s first differentiate the “scope of a project” and its “requirements.” The scope of a project defines the work that needs to be accomplished; whereas, the requirements are specifications of what is needed from the project and will later be built out in a project plan. Requirements will spark conversation amongst management and other stakeholders. By creating a formal list and breaking out the requirements, you’ll be less likely to miss any key needs. While this takes time and resources, formalizing this step will set the organization up for success and help ensure you are getting the most out of your financial investment. Additionally, establishing requirements can assist in organically defining roles in your organization’s initiative for selection and implementation. These roles hold people accountable within the organization based on their area of responsibility.
The following are examples of basic requirement categories:
- All Business Processes that Need to be Supported by the Software
- Functionality Needs by Department
- Reporting Needs
- Regulatory Requirements
- Specific Control Standards (operational, financial, etc.)
- Security Functionality
- System Integration Points Vendor Helpdesk Support
- Determination of Cloud or On-Premise System
- Ease of User for End Users
- Patch Management and Update Management
- Total Cost of Ownership
2. Engage Others in the Organization
While creating the project scope and a list of requirements is important, involving people from different business functions within the organization is also key. An integrated software system will affect multiple departments so it is important to gain insight from all potential end users. Interview these individuals, documenting and determining what they need. Also, be sure that everyone understands the difference between wants versus needs. What must the business have as part of a new technology implementation? What could we absolutely not live without? Alternatively, what would be really nice to have? Think of this as the icing on the cake, but not necessarily a must, particularly when weighing cost options. In the end, create a formal list of all the needs and wants across the organization’s departments to understand how one system can suit the business; these will be fundamental to the development of the set of requirements.
Defining requirements with each department will organically identify current state process inefficiencies, key features that are needed from a future system, and other interdepartmental needs, while setting the organization up for a formal, organized approach to selecting a proper system without paying more due to inefficiencies.
3. Select a Project Leader
It is important to identify a project manager or facilitator to lead the team and oversee the selection and implementation process. This individual can help identify the core team (typically the same group that is involved in the system selection and implementation). The project leader will organize working sessions to determine what requirements are needed and/or wanted within each applicable department. Once you have this information, you can start identifying what the big picture of requirements will look like across the organization to satisfy all operational, financial and technical needs.
4. Formalize the list of Requirements
One critical outcome that should occur as a result of the system requirements gathering exercise is a review of your current business process flow from top to bottom within the organization. By taking the opportunity to look at all affected areas of your business as a whole and specifically understand the workflow from beginning to end, companies will start to see where improvements can be made. For example, there could be opportunities to re-organize departments or teams or improve manual processes to make things more efficient. This in turn may have an effect on the system you ultimately select. This will also allow for the organization to understand integration points with other systems within the company’s application landscape. The project management team will then have a strong understanding of the current state of systems, which will help them ensure that the new system is supported effectively.
It is critical to note, a software provider may have an “out-of-the-box” workflow for their system, but it is common for businesses to have needs and wants that can’t be met by generic workflows and functions. By formally documenting requirements and having a strong understanding of your individual business process, you will be able to define and communicate exactly what is needed for your business from the system and why.
5. Ask for Help
We cannot underscore enough how important project management is for successful system selection and implementation. Often organizations are aware that they may not possess the right mix of skills internally to lead a project like this and look to trusted advisors to assist and that is okay. Further, the organization may not have the benefit of the insight that can be provided by an advisor who has experience in the requirements gathering process. It may sound counter-intuitive that paying for assistance will save costs, but it isn’t. Doing this exercise properly will set you up for a proper selection and successful implementation, which is a large investment. Spending thousands or even millions of dollars on the wrong system is far more expensive than hiring the proper outside help for project management.
When chosen correctly, technology can assist your business with operational effectiveness and efficiency, quality control, and automated technology and financial controls. The challenge is that as fast-paced as the technology industry is and as fast-paced as your business needs are, it can be overwhelming to determine what the right application scale and landscape is to support your business and where to begin. However, a formal system requirements exercise as outlined above can alleviate the stress of feeling like you are “boiling the ocean” and set you up for a successful system selection and implementation.